TIME Magazine search results for “Baseball” and “Orchestra”

fig. 1 TIME Magazine - mentions of orchestra (Michael Di Mauro)
fig. 1 TIME Magazine – mentions of orchestra (Michael Di Mauro)

Greg Sandow, in his first of a series of three posts of a “timeline of the crisis,” gives us a graph of search results (fig. 1) for TIME Magazine search results for “Orchestra” compiled by Michael Di Mauro. Set aside the fact that the graph is an attempt to be a bivariate analysis (the Entertainment / reviews relevant to ‘orchestra’ is simply a subset of the total search result) “comparing” Employment rate with search results (I’m not even sure why this is included here), it is really just a univariate analysis describing one type of data–namely the “orchestra” search result.

While useful, univariate descriptions don’t tell us much and the contention is that there is a big dropoff after 1969 which heralds some kind of crisis in Classical Music.  As Greg says:

 Could the meaning of it be any clearer? It shows classical music losing its force in American culture. The mentions of orchestras — in both articles and music reviews — fell by two-thirds in 1969, and continued to fall after that, picking up only in the past few years.

Yes, it could be a lot clearer.  In a comment on Greg’s facebook wall and on his post I bring in some historical context with an alternative explanation for what might be happening.  Basically, editorial changes in longer styled essays happened right around the death of one of TIME Magazine founders, Henry Luce.  I suspected there might be fewer mentions of everything since there would be fewer articles overall.  I also mentioned that the exact period within which that purported period where classical music is losing its force corresponded to the changing directions of Magazine and print media in response to television becoming the dominant media (and thus catching the bigger piece of advertising dollars).  I quoted from Croteau & Hoynes book, “The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public Interest” (pp. 58-59) to explain the latter:

The threat to magazines, many of which competed directly with television for national advertisers, was even more severe. Much like the radio industry, the magazine industry retooled and adapted to the new media environment. As magazines changed, economic necessities were the key factors shaping their evolution. In the 1950s, industry leaders began to transform their products to survive in an era when they would be a secondary medium in the shadow of television.

The Magazine industry followed a strategy similar to radio, moving from general interest national magazines to the specialized magazine with a demographically targeted audience. One indication of change in the magazine industry was the financial failure of several high circulation national magazines. Between 1969 and 1972, three of the most widely read magazines in the country–the Saturday Event Post, Life, and Look—all folded. While each of these weekly magazines had more than 6 million readers, they maintained such high circulation revenues to stay afloat. As national advertisers shifted their attention–and their dollars—toward television, the national magazines who offered general interest fare to a mass audience (just what television was offering) quickly lost ground with advertisers.

Advertisers, in fact, deserted these national magazines before readers did. Despite continuing popularity among readers, the economics of the magazine industry led to the shutdown of these widely read publications. This is a classic example of the unique dynamics involved in the “dual-product” market within which media firms operate. In this case, even though magazines were able to attract a large readership, it was abandonment by advertisers that led to the demise of these publications. The market was respond to the “customer” who really mattered: advertisers.

With television dominating the national media scene, particularly in the eyes of advertisers, the magazine industry turned toward specialized publications for niche markets. Such targeted publications—for young women or sports fans or nature lovers–could succeed in financial terms with smaller circulations because they attracted specialized advertising that was directed at the target audience. Advertisers interested in reaching demographically specific audience segments (by age, gender, region, etc.) or readers with a passion for a specific set of activities (sports, cooking), etc.) were perfect matches for the new specialized magazines. These new magazines, that began to populated the newsstands beginning in the 1960s, provided a high profile alternative for advertisers who did not want, or could not afford, the national marketing campaigns that were the domain of network television.

Greg’s response to the editorial direction change was in typical cherry-picking fashion:

First, it seems unlikely on its face. The number of items in Time mentioning orchestras decreased to less than a third of what they’d been in the past. Can this have been due largely to a change in format? Hardly seems possible. There were, after Luce’s death, so many fewer items in each issue of the magazine?

The other thing to say is that your hypothesis can easily be tested. All we have to do is search for some word that — thinking of the overall state of our culture — would be as likely to show up in, let’s say, the 1930s and the 1970s. So i searched for “baseball.” The word appeared in 82 articles in 1939, and 71 in 1979. If your hypothesis proved true, we’d expect to see many fewer articles with baseball in them in 1979. But we don’t. The hypothesis appears to fail.

Why Greg randomly picked those dates, I don’t know.  He could have used 1969 (87 articles) and 1973 (88 articles) to better make his case that there wasn’t much change.  Or even better, he could have selected articles 1928 (52 articles) to contrast with his 1979 (71 articles) selection to show there’s actually been an increase in mentions.  Alternatively, he could have picked 1957 (131 articles) and 1974 (56 articles) to show that baseball has lost force in US culture and fallen by nearly two-thirds!  Point is, it’s easy to cherry-pick to make your case.

I was actually curious in what was really the trend, and used a line graph to show a bivariate description of search results for “Baseball” and “Orchestra” (fig 2. – you can view it as a Google visualization with mouseovers for the individual datapoints here) and discovered that until the late 70s the number of articles follow a very similar direction, if not number.  As I said above, by 1974 the number of articles for baseball had fallen to 56 and hovered in the 60 to 70 range during the 70s.  This is after a high point of articles during the 50s to early 60s where the number hovered in the 90 to 120 range (with a peak to 131 in 1957 as mentioned above).

TIME Magazine search results for "Baseball" and "Orchestra"
fig. 2 TIME Magazine search results for “Baseball” and “Orchestra” (Jon Silpayamanant)

The divergence in the late 70s is of interest as my response to Greg’s cherry-picked example discusses the historical context of the post-Sports Broadcasting Act which led to Sports leagues creating broadcast licenses in the 1960s and after.  With increased media concentration, this has only accelerated and we can see that there’s a sharp upward trend (with some dips) in articles about baseball.  Curiously, the highest number of articles is in 2013 (355) which has yet to end.  Also note that there is also an upward trend in Orchestra articles as well, though very modest and it doesn’t come close to the low point in 1943 (where we have 62 articles) until 2008 (61 articles) and 2013 (58 articles to date).

Interestingly, during the 30s and early 40s there was also a rise in number of articles.  I suspect that with the creation of 150+ orchestra by FERA and the WPA Federal Music Project and the many thousands of concerts and educational initiatives contributed to the small divergence between Baseball and Orchestra articles.  Note that by the late 40s and early 50s articles both rose sharply after a short dip in both – likely due to more focus on the War during the dip and post-WWII prosperity afterwards.

Of course, neither of these tell us much–this is one print entity amongst many thousands and whatever trends we see here may not be reflected in other print entities.  But now I’m curious as to how much media concentration in megacorporations has contributed to the rise of Sports (and Pop Music).  As I mentioned in a previous post between 1969-1973, the Gate revenue for Major League Baseball averaged 61% of total revenue.  By 2001 Gate revenue was 40% of total revenue and by 2006 35%.  Might be interesting to see how closely the increasing proportion of media licensing revenue follows increased media exposure.

In the end, all this tells us is how much TIME Magazine values these things and as it slowly moves in the direction of its competitors, Newsweek and US News & World Report, into digital-land, maybe what it thinks isn’t particularly relevant anyway.

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12 thoughts on “TIME Magazine search results for “Baseball” and “Orchestra”

  1. This is the sort of careful statistical analysis that I — trained as a hard scientist — sort of assumed was behind a lot of Greg’s commentary the first time I ran into him, mostly because — trained as a hard scientist — I couldn’t imagine anyone not doing this sort of analysis on their topic of choice before opening their damn mouth. When it became clear to me that he hadn’t actually done anything of the sort, the gloss wore off of his ideas very quickly.

    God, this just bugs me. And to think that this sort of soap-bubble foundation is beneath all this panic-mongering, which is how it comes across to the kids in his classroom, makes it worse. He’s scaring the shit out of those kids with this end-is-nigh junk. The truth is there is no “crisis,” there is only the bald fact that things are simply changing as they always have in this world. Instead of just accepting that and developing tools to deal with it, he’s freaking out and freaking others out. Very useful. I’m sure seeing someone who is supposed to be an authority figure, someone whose responsibility is to teach these kids how to get along in the world and who works in an institution that is supposedly going to do that, shitting his pants and running all over the country hollering “CRISIS!” over and over is really helping things. It’s a wonder his students don’t have PTSD by now.

    1. I know what you mean–once i realized he had this big “theory” of “crisis” and was just engaging in selective acts of confirmation bias and not really analyzing the data (plus the constant use of anecdotes as explanation rather than illustration) I realized that he really hadn’t done his work. Interactions with him over the years have only confirmed what I suspected. *shrugs*

      I was actually looking forward to his timeline of the crisis posts as I thought he’d finally be throwing some hard data at us. I would have welcomed it–but it’s just more of the same. Mostly summaries of many of his old posts and ideas scattered amongst comments and anecdotes others have posted on his facebook wall and blog–mostly other like-minded talking heads.

      I mean–sweet Buddha–his explanation for the drop off in 1969 (in his second timeline post) was freaking WOODSTOCK! I kid you not:

      A footnote to yesterday:
      One of the snapshots in yesterday’s post — showing classical music receding from mainstream culture — tracked the word “orchestra” in articles and reviews in Time magazine. In 1969 use of the word declined dramatically.
      So as Peter Goodman, commenting on Facebook asked, why 1969? Michael Di Mauro, who put the data together and graphed it, asked the same question in an email to me. Woodstock happened in 1969. Was Woodstock a watershed in the growth of a new kind of culture, one in which orchestras were less important than they used to be?

      And his third “very detailed timeline” –just as I mentioned above–anecdotal comments by other posters scattered throughout with his own observations with inserted “pivotal” historcal events which may or may not have anything to do with anything.

      1. Well, plus the fact that I remember my blue-collar brain going *doink!* when he was talking and talking, and then referring to his “very important work,” and I realized … he thinks that shooting the breeze is actual work.

        This is not work. This is blah blah blah. Until you actually create something, you are not doing any work.

        There are times when being the child of a repairman really comes to the fore, and this is one of them. I think sometimes this is one of the biggest class distinguishers ever, more than almost anything else: we do not think sitting around shooting the breeze is actual work. Get the eff up and MAKE something. THEN, you’re working.

  2. I think someone needs to pick up a few issues of Time from before and after the format change and count the number of articles, length, and type, since he dodges around the nature of the changes completely.

    1. Yes, that would be the best option–there’s an obvious decrease in mentions for both baseball and orchestra but simply having those issues would more definitively show one way or the other. I might have to see if I can find some of those.

  3. “This is a classic example of the unique dynamics involved in the “dual-product” market within which media firms operate.”

    Looks like Facebook’s monetizing of their audience isn’t quite as radical as we may think. If cover price was never the biggest source of money for magazines, all that FB did is effectively drop cover price to zero. (And drop the magazine’s editorial staff and photographers to zero as well … because WE do that ourselves now.)

    The older I get, the more I see that everything that’s supposedly “hip,” “new,” and “revolutionary” has already happened before.

    1. Yeah, pretty much. Facebook is the social network (i.e. social broadcasting) equivalent of pirate sites. Free content all the time, paid for by the advertisers until they (the advertisers) decide their money would be better spent elsewhere as what happened with the shift from advertising in print to advertising in television. We’re just seeing the transition to advertising dollars funding social media sites now. We never really drove the content as consumers, we just filled the coffers, so to speak.

      1. And didn’t even fill them very much. NO media with advertising was ever serving its viewers. They like to say, “If the product is free, then YOU are the product.” In reality, if the product takes in ANY ads, then YOU are the product, no matter how much it costs.

      2. Sad thing is–we’ve become the product AND the ads–the whole crowdfunding/sourcing movement could never exist if we didn’t also function as ads.

        And then we think that by getting all the other “free” perks we come out ahead. Free social media networking site; free music; free movies.

        Corporations save money using us as ads, consumers save money by not having to pay for services. Small content creators (e.g. musicians, authors, artists) lose money due to pirating–and we’re being told it’s for our benefit to get all this free promo! :/

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